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Front. Psychol. | doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01782

The Body as Evidence for the Nature of Language

  • 1English Language and Literature, University of Haifa, Israel

Taking its cue from sign languages, this paper pulls together a range of studies to support the proposal that the recruitment and composition of body actions counts as evidence for linguistic properties. Adopting the view that compositionality is the foundational organizing property of language, we find first that actions of the hands, face, head, and torso in sign languages directly reflect linguistic components, as well as certain aspects of compositional organization among them that are common to all languages, signed and spoken. Work on emerging sign languages strengthens the approach by showing that the gradual recruitment of bodily articulators for linguistic functions directly maps the way in which a new language increases in complexity over time. While compositional communication is almost exclusively restricted to humans, it is not restricted to language. In the spontaneous, intense emotional displays of athletes, different emotional states are correlated with actions of particular face and body features and feature groupings, indicating a much more ancient compositional foundation for language.

Keywords: sign language, compositionality, embodiment, language emergence, Linguistic evidence, Emotion., language evolution

Received: 09 Feb 2018; Accepted: 03 Sep 2018.

Edited by:

Manuel Carreiras, Basque Center on Cognition, Brain and Language, Spain

Reviewed by:

Michael C. Corballis, University of Auckland, New Zealand
Brendan Costello, Basque Center on Cognition, Brain and Language, Spain  

Copyright: © 2018 Sandler. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Prof. Wendy Sandler, University of Haifa, English Language and Literature, Mount Carmel, Haifa, 31905, Israel,